rose laying on shakespeare play
Singles can blame Shakespeare and Chaucer for popularizing Valentine's Day.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, a holiday equally loved and despised by the world’s couples and singles, respectively. And while most of us associate the holiday with warm fuzzy feelings about our partner, it wasn’t always so romantic.

In fact, there used to be a whole lot more animal sacrifice, flagellation, and running nude through the town square on February 14th. 

The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to, you guessed it, a violent pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia.

Observed in Ancient Rome, Lupercalia was a fertility festival in which men sacrificed goats and dogs and then wore their hides as they ran nude through town, lashing local women with whips made from the hides of their sacrifices. Local women would line up to receive their whipping, believing it would help them conceive.

So… how did we get from whipping the locals to heart-shaped candy and cutesy cards? As it turns out, you can thank Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.

Here’s the story of how a few English poets turned Valentine’s Day from a violent pagan fertility ritual into the most romantic day of the year.

Will the Real Saint Valentine Please Stand Up?

Before we get into the olde English of it all, we have to talk about who Saint Valentine actually was. While the real history is a tad hazy since this all took place thousands of years ago, many historians agree that Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred before Christianity was legal in Rome, around the year 270. When he tried to convert Claudius II to Christianity, and was promptly beheaded.

An alternative theory holds that he was the imprisoned Bishop Valentinus, who also refused to renounce Christ and was beheaded on the 14th of February. 

There were a lot of Christian Valentines being beheaded around this time, so it’s not impossible that history rolled them all into one character.

For a long time, Saint Valentine was just the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, not a wildly popular saint (except perhaps amongst beekeepers).

Leave it to the Bard

It wasn’t until Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of the Canterbury Tales, penned “The Parliament of Fowls” in the 14th century that Valentine’s Day became the day of lovers. In that, he wrote:

For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make

Translation: Valentine’s Day is the day birds choose their mate.

It’s important to keep in mind that both Chaucer and Shakespeare were major celebrities in their time, with wide popular appeal. So if they said something, the common folk immediately latched onto it. It’s kind of like how Beyoncé got a bunch of people saying "bootylicious" there for a few years. With the stroke of a pen, Saint Valentine was forever associated with romance.

And just to make sure that the association stayed, a few centuries later William Shakespeare referenced it in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when Theseus the Duke of Athens compares resting lovers to birds again, writing “Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past. Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?”

That sealed the deal. Over the next few centuries, the fertility element from the Lupercalia festival, the name of Saint Valentine, and the passion of the poets all combined to help create our most romantic holiday.

So if you’re cursing the very name of Saint Valentine this February, you know who to thank.

46 comments

  1. Shango MasterExorcist, D.D.'s Avatar Shango MasterExorcist, D.D.

    The original version was a lot more fun.

    1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

      I have a number of friends who are modern practitioners of the Religio Romana. They are quite a bit tamer in their observances.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    Um sorry but absolute tripe and BS. Valentines day originated in A.D. 270 well before Chaucer and Shakesphere's great grand parents x10 were a twinkle in the Universe's eye

    1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

      Daniel - Once again you completely miss the point of the article. Yes, St. Valentine's Day was established looooong before Chaucer and Shakespeare. But before Chaucer and Shakespeare, there was no connection between St. Valentine and romance. In reality, though, it was Hallmark and Hershey's that created American Valentine's Day.

      1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

        didnt miss a thing. there were already gifts given during this celebration and that was LONG before either of them were a sparkle in the Universes eye. So I guess its you who missed the point.

        1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

          Okay, you're right. I can't fix stupid.

          1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

            so why are you trying to fix yourself?

            1. Nancy Pianfetti's Avatar Nancy Pianfetti

              Please stop. I've always thought this was a place to strengthen our ministry and support each other. Not to get extremely petty. I went on to get a bachelor's degree in Ministry but still come back to this site for information and inspiration. Most of history can be debated as to exact details. I appreciated the article. Please keep these kind of immature arguments off this site. Thank you.

              1. Sally Jeanne Altobello's Avatar Sally Jeanne Altobello

                Thanks, Nancy. I was just about to say the same thing....

              2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

                Now that you know better Nancy, I hope you'll keep coming back anyway. We like hearing new and unusual perspectives around here every once in a while. They give us a hearty chuckles, and make us wonder, "What if"?

              3. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

                Nancy, in the holy words of St. Ozzy I must say "I don't want to change the world. I don't want the world to change me".

              4. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

                Furthermore Nancy, if you find that nobody here will bow down to you, and do things your way, did you know that ULC does have other blogs. This one is at themonastery.org. You might have gotten here by mistake. I have noticed that there are more goodie two shoes and pansies at some of the other blogs, where you might fit in better. Just food for thought.

              5. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

                Tough too bad if neither of you two can accept reality. I refuse to lie just to sooth someones feelings and since this is historically accurate then nobody cares if you dont like it or not. History does not change just to make Nancy and Sally happy.

              6. Deidre M White's Avatar Deidre M White

                Nancy, thank you for trying to be a peacemaker.

              7. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

                Nancy, don't forget to tell Deidre how to get to the next blog you try to take over. She sounds like your kind of girl.

    2. Tom's Avatar Tom

      This blog doesn't say that Chaucer and Shakespeare originated Valentine's day. It says that the date became associated with lovers thanks to Chaucer.

      "It wasn’t until Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of the Canterbury Tales, penned “The Parliament of Fowls” in the 14th century that Valentine’s Day became the day of lovers."

      1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

        No it tries to give them credit for something that was already being done centuries before they were born. Historically inaccurate of the blog writer.

        1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

          Dude, you're reading stuff that is not in the article.

          1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

            Oh really? Guess you missed the title of the story above which clearly states "How Shakespeare and Chaucer Helped Create Valentine's Day ". So tell me how they could help create a holiday that was around long before their great grandparents x10 were a twinkle in the universes eye?

            1. Daniel Joseph Morse's Avatar Daniel Joseph Morse

              An example of creating a holiday that already existed might be that "Yule" and the renewal of the winter solstice predated the Christian Christmas. I read that Constantine 1, perhaps the first emperor of Constantinople (Eastern Emperor) ordered the First Christmas.

              I've always thought christmas day was conveniently moved from the winter solstice for marketing reasons, trying to substitute in a "related" product on people who already had the "solstice habit".

              Then comes the ridiculous Easter rabbit, pure pagan fertility in the new year and new crop season.

              Whatever, I will ignore the affront to my intelligence and go away when I die.

              The Valentine thing is pointless to me as I don't value saints or "love" anyway.

              Think about "saints", the only way to be one is to be dead. To me, being dead means the dead one made a gross error such as preaching "right" to power.

              1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

                tough too bad, this was a holiday LONG before Shakespeare and Chaucer.

                Guess you really need to learn history

        2. Tom's Avatar Tom

          I'm sure it's hard being destroyed by facts but according to the "Encyclopaedia of Great Festivals" the Feast of Saint Valentine was first established in AD 496 to mark the date of St. Valentine's execution in AD 269.

          There wasn't any romantic connection to the date until the 14th century when Chaucer wrote Parliament of Fowls and this isn't my opinion, it's historical fact. Read about it here. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2847741

          1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

            And I am sure that you cherry picking is a sure sign of desperation. IN that same article you will see that gifts were also given for the festival. But then again I guess you are too full of self import to see that you were wrong.

            1. Tom's Avatar Tom

              I am not cherry picking at all. I'm providing you with accurate information regarding the holiday.

              Yes St. Valentine's day was celebrated before Chaucer. I didn't see any mention of gift giving being a tradition prior to Chaucer in the article I provided a link for (though I certainly could have overlooked that part on accident) but the giving of gifts does not make a holiday celebration one of romance.

              Prior to Chaucer's poems, there is no evidence of romance or courtship being tied to the holiday of Valentine's Day such as we see today. The first page of the article I provided a link for states as such.

              If you want to nitpick the title of the blog post for not specifying that they helped create Valentine's Day as we celebrate it today that is a fair criticism but it doesn't warrant the combative tone of your comments.

              1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

                No I gave you accurate information, you are just trying to twist it to fit your viewpoint. Try again

  1. Raven Wind Benavides's Avatar Raven Wind Benavides

    Can this site STOP calling Roman Holidays Pagan Holidays? Not everything that is not Christian or Catholic is Pagan. Imbolc, the ORIGNAL Pagan Holiday was not violent. The Valentine's color's of today, as well as many of the gift giving and flower traditions came from Imbolc. Red for Blood after a woman is deflowered. White for milk. Pink for newborn babies. Imbolc is about love, not just sexual and romantic love either. Love for the world, friends, family, animals, self love. Whoever posts these always talks about "Violent Pagan Holidays" and "Brutal Pagan Holidays" then goes directly to the Romans. Can someone PLEASE start fact checking these before posting?

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      Good points Raven, thank you. Fact checking to see if any gods are real might also be worthwhile for anyone trying to determine if they are, especially being as the gods seem to have difficulty proving they exist, unless one wants to assume nature is somehow a god, or the Sun is a god. At least the Sun god shows up every day……unless you live in England. I think the rain god, or cloud god, exists there. The tsunami god is one to watch out for. Boy, can he be mean! 🤪

      🦁❤️

      1. Raven Wind Benavides's Avatar Raven Wind Benavides

        Fact Checking History is not the same as fact checking or proving the existence of any deities. Regardless of if different deities ever existed or not is irrelevant, the solid, unwavering, and undeniable fact is that there is holidays that were celebrated peacefully by Pagans, that were heavily influenced by their beliefs in the Goddess and Horned God, long before the brutal romans came and started killing them.

        1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

          Yep! So true. Thanks Raven.

          🦁♥️

      2. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

        God's existence or even gods' existence being proved to people who won't accept anything as proof of their existence and their existence being proved to people who are open to receiving and accepting reasonable evidence of their existence are two very different things!! The Sun also couldn't be proved to exist to someone who refused to ever go outside or open his eyes, so as to be able to see that it exists! People would ridicule anyone who could see if he just opened his eyes and because of his not opening them denied the existence of the sun, but because our spiritual eyes are invisible to other people, they don't, consistently, ridicule people who, because of not opening those eyes, can't see any evidence of God's or gods' existence. The order and design and complexity in the universe, which a mindless universe couldn't do for itself, is proof of a Mind behind the universe doing all that for it, the same as a house that we find in a clearing in the woods, but didn't see built, proves that some people built it and designed it, since houses don't just grow up out of the ground by themselves and build themselves! The reason why atheists don't follow suit in their "thinking" with the far greater complexity in the universe that even they follow with houses here on Earth is because admitting that houses were built and designed by some people doesn't make any moral demands on them or impact their lives at all, whereas admitting that there must be a Mind behind the universe does make moral demands on them and then their wills aren't all that matter anymore, and they merely cover over that real reason with "scientific" pretenses and camouflage, to make it look "more reasonable and realistic, and less personal"! So much as a toothpick doesn't happen until someone makes it happen and so, quite obviously, a universe that is trillions or far more times more complex than any toothpick couldn't have happened and still be maintaining itself without a Mind making it happen and maintaining it, logically and consistently speaking. Answers to prayers also prove that Someone is answering them, the same as responses to all other human requests prove that someone is answering them. If atheists are right and the mindless universe is regulating and driving itself, they should have no problem with providing us with a small example of that: a self-driving driverless car without being remote controlled or computer programmed driving itself across country and getting its own gas and making repairs on itself. If it can't happen locally here on Earth, you can forget all about it happening throughout hundreds of billions or more of light years of space!!!

        1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

          As above, so below.

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Some Pagan/Wiccan Sabbats are celebrated on the same days as other holidays, some national and some religious. Why not celebrate them all, in good ways, along with those who celebrate them, as they are celebrated now, without condemning the ways and reasons why some people celebrated the in the past. All we have is right now, so why not make the best of it, with everyone else. Didn't y'all know that the ULC is about coming together, and why I dub myself an interfaith minister. I don't preach about my beliefs to those who have others, but provide spiritual counseling to others, in accordance with their beliefs, when it is requested of me, always free of charge.

      1. Raven Wind Benavides's Avatar Raven Wind Benavides

        Tha is because most holidays were made to cover up Pagan and Wiccan Holidays. We have no issues with others celebrating wha ever it is they wish to celebrate, we have taken part in countless different holidays from various regions and religions. All we are saying, is tha it would be nice IF Pagan and Wiccan Holidays were not being trashed on this site or confused with brutal Roman holidays. The whole Pagan Heathen Evil Bad Bloodthirsty thing really became old after listening to it from everybody fur the first decade. the fact tha now, another decade later, all the way in modern day 2022 when those who do not exactly fit in with the common belief are accepted, Pagans, Wiccans, their beliefs, AND their history are STILL being dragged the bloody mud is outright annoying and tiresome. It would be great if ULC could come together, but after all these years, it seems others are still set on painting a cruel picture of Pagans and Wiccans.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    For me, Valentine's Day started the day I was born, and today I'm 59 years old. Regardless of its roots I only celebrate this day the way it has been celebrated throughout my life. However, since I don't have a girlfriend right now I'll stay home, and talk on the phone. And now knowing that Valentine was the saint of bee keepers, I'll be sure to put honey in my tea today. To all of you who celebrate this as a day of romance, "Happy Valentine's Day!

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I also celebrate Imbolc, but that's a bird of another feather. I don't call Imbolc Valentine's Day, or vice versa, and celebrate them separately, not confusing one with the other, as I also celebrate Yule, Christmas, and Hanakah, Samhain, Halloween, All Souls Day, et cetera. I just like to come together with others in celebration! Ofcourse, it helps to be eclectic, and not against the beliefs of others. What I believe in is right for me, and what you believe in is right for you. There is no one right way for everyone.

  1. John Casillo's Avatar John Casillo

    Yes,...lets all rejoice over V D day......1 out of 2 marriages end in divorce....the other half....mostly pretend to be with a loving mate since infidelity runs wild...and all the while people keep asking themselves..."is this the one...my soulmate"....while a dog may dig a hole....too many humans not only dig their own hole deeper....they gladly fall in to bury their insincerety and dishonesty so that we all can carry on looking forward to the next Cupid's arrow. For most,....love is no deeper than dead flowers and melted chocolates...where is your real heart??? Rev john

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Well John, I do like that song "Whole Lotta Rosie", and we all know what she had! But it wasn't red for Valentine's Day, and I'm not about to earn my green wings! Not just yet.

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Carry on, my wayward son. There will be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. And don't you cry no more.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    It all depends on how good of a spiritual program we're working. Some do and some don't. To thine own self be true.

  1. Brandon Evans's Avatar Brandon Evans

    Great article !

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    You sound like you've studied Hermetic philosophy, Mr. Partin. The universe is definitely mental. Everything exists within the mind of The All, which is infinite, and inçomprehensible to finite human mind. Many still try to comprehend what they cannot, when the key to it all lies in acceptance, instead of denial.

    1. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

      Mr. Elfstrom, studied Hermetic philosophy? Some little bit that I have picked up from learning about witchcraft, Freemasonry, Theosophy, magic, and the occult, generally. I definitely agree that the mind of The All is infinite and incomprehensible to the finite human mind. As St. Augustine related in a story, he was walking along the beach one day and had decided that his intellect was so great, that he would be able to figure God out completely. Then, he saw a little boy who was using a thimble to pour ocean water into a pail, and asked what the boy was doing. "I'm going to pour this whole ocean into this pail". Augustine laughed and said that he could never get the whole ocean into that little pail. "Far less can you get all of God into your mind!", the boy replied, and disappeared and Augustine knew that he was an angel. How ridiculous is it, too, for some people to think that what won't fit into their minds doesn't exist! Take care and stay well!

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I must add, why waste our breaths on the folly of fools. Anyone who is stupid enough to think all this could be the result of a big bang... That is totally ridiculous, yet they think they're brilliant, and won't be convinced by anything to the contrary that anyone says. I have read there is a part of our brains that some have and some don't, to be able to conceive of the Divine.

    1. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

      Vladimir Putin proves himself to be one of those atheistic fools, Mr. Elfstrom, no matter if he was baptized in the Orthodox Church as a child, by his ordering the invasion of Ukraine, which shows that he has renounced whatever faith that he ever had!! That isn't his loving his neighbor as himself, as Christ commanded his followers to do. Nobody is Christian just because he says that he is, but only by doing what Jesus said for His followers to do. Little Willie's Son wants to believe that Putin is a "Christian" because that would "confirm" his bigotry against Christianity and Christians, but Jesus defined who is a Christian, not little Willie's Son. Stalin also was baptized in the Orthodox Church and Hitler was baptized in the Catholic Church, but renounced their faith by their actions, and so were no more Christian than Putin is!! "By their fruits you will know them" and "By this will all men know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another".

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember that peace there may be in silence.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.

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